Heroin Addiction

Opiates killed more than 49,000 people in the United States in 2017.
Opiate abuse has become a serious problem in America. Opiate addictions often start with legitimate prescriptions following surgery, and when those prescriptions run out patients turn to even more dangerous alternatives to experience the same highs.

One of the most dangerous of these drugs is heroin. Heroin addiction is especially dangerous and can easily lead to accidental overdose and death.

Fortunately, treatment options for heroin addiction are available and effective.

If you or someone you know might be suffering from an addiction to heroin, educating yourself is the first step to recovery.

What is Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that is characterized by a physical and mental addiction to an illegal narcotic substance known as heroin.

Heroin is sold illegally on the streets, usually in the form of a brown or white powder or a black tar-like substance.

Heroin can be taken in many forms. The main three routes of administration are smoking, intravenous injection, and intranasal inhalation.

These methods deliver the drug to the bloodstream incredibly quickly, and the drug crosses the blood-brain barrier where it is converted to morphine. Crossing this barrier makes heroin especially dangerous, and the faster a drug acts on the brain, the more addictive it is – in the case of heroin, it a very fast acting substance.

The reason heroin is so highly addictive is because it is absorbed so quickly that it produces immediate effects. When a person becomes addicted to heroin, functional and structural changes in the brain take place that cause further drug-seeking behavior.

Heroin overdoses are common because users who purchase the drug illegally on the streets usually do not know the purity of the drug and they can easily take a higher dose than expected when obtaining a high quality or potent variation.

In recent years, heroin on the street has been cut with fentanyl, which is a much stronger synthetic version many times more powerful than morphine or heroin. Most users, and many dealers, don’t have any idea if their supply contains fentanyl, and they unknowingly overdose.

A heroin or fentanyl overdose usually occurs because the user stops breathing. Narcan is used by first responders to counteract heroin’s effect on the brain, thereby unlocking the brain and allowing the user to breathe normally again.

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3 Risk Factors of Heroin Addiction

Heroin AddictionResearch indicates that heroin addiction does not usually have a single cause or contributing factor, but is most often the result of multiple contributing factors creating the perform storm. There are three types of risk factors: genetic, environmental, and physical.

  1. Genetic Risk Factors

It is commonly understood that addiction runs in families but not always understood why that is.

If you have a first-degree relative with a drug addiction, you are at a much higher risk for developing an addiction yourself.

However, this is not a necessary precursor for developing an addiction, as addiction can affect anyone.

  1. Physical Risk Factors

Physical risk factors come into play for individuals who have a chemical predisposition in their brain toward addiction.

Some people often use the term  “addictive personality” to describe people who lean toward using addictive substances, and although this isn’t quite accurate, there is some truth to the fact that some people naturally like the feeling they get from using drugs and alcohol.

Many people enjoy the high, but a smaller segment of the population can’t get enough of it, and the way their brain is wired, they are more at risk for having a problem with addiction than most other people.

  1. Environmental Risk Factors

Those who were exposed to drug or alcohol use by friends and family members during their childhood or teenage years are more likely to use drugs early on and develop an addiction as they get older.

It’s also true that using drugs or alcohol at a young age increases the risk for developing an addiction later on in life. Those who start using substances regularly as pre-teens or teens or at higher risk for addiction than those who don’t start using until after 25 years old, when the brain is more fully developed.

Other Risk Factors

  • Having a mental illness
  • Poor family relationships
  • Prior use of a highly addictive drug
  • Childhood behavioral disorders
  • Exposure to peer pressure
  • Males are at higher risk than females for many substances

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Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

The signs and symptoms of heroin abuse are dependent on individual factors.

Heroin addiction will manifest itself in each individual differently, based on their genetic makeup and other factors.

The length of a person’s addiction, how often they are using the drug, and whether they are also using other drugs or alcohol will affect how their addiction displays signs and symptoms.

However, there are some signs and symptoms that are common to most heroin addicts in varying degrees.

Behavioral symptoms of heroin addiction likely depend on how far the addiction has progressed.

The first sign of addiction is the inability or failure to stop using the drug even after trying to quit. Once someone is addicted to the drug, they will begin displaying increasingly alarming behavioral patterns that are highly focused on obtaining more of the drug.

Addicts will do whatever it takes to make sure they always have access to the drug, including stealing or engaging in other high-risk behaviors to obtain more of it. They will spend money that they do not have to obtain more of the drug.

They will lie and hide the drug and any paraphernalia they might have to cover up their addiction.

When using the drug, they will withdraw from their social circles and participate in impulsive and risky behaviors that they would not normally do.

Their addiction will be their focus and they will do anything to get high and escape the snowball effect of problems they have created.

With a trained eye, you can easily spot the physical symptoms of heroin addiction as well.

Heroin addicts will wear long sleeves to cover track marks on their arms where they injected the drug.

When high, they will show signs of opiate use including constricted pupils, drooping eyelids, slow unsteady gait, and slowed breathing. They will often experience diminished mental function and may appear drowsy even when they are awake.

Side effects of heroin affect every part of the body and mind.

Users can experience a multitude of mental health issues ranging from depression to psychosis. Their mental and physical well-being will suffer and any mental illnesses they already had will likely get worse.

The physical side effects of heroin range from collapsed veins at the injection site to accidental overdose and death.

Treatment and Recovery

Fortunately, heroin addiction is treatable.

As the opiate epidemic continues to worsen, treatment centers are improving their methods of helping addicts recover and get back to their normal life.

Treatment for heroin addiction involves the use of medications to help make detox more comfortable as well as prevent cravings for heroin. Detox should take place in a doctor supervised facility.

Medications are combined with behavioral therapy to find the root cause of addiction as a coping mechanism and teach relapse prevention methods.

Behavioral therapy can take place in outpatient or residential settings and longer periods of recovery therapy result in better chances for success.

If you or someone you love is facing an addiction to heroin, contact us for more information on getting treatment today.